White nationalists built a memorial for the white woman fatally shot by a Minneapolis cop
Three days before Christmas, a small memorial appeared outside a Minneapolis police precinct's headquarters.
A dozen lit candles, about twice as many roses and a small framed picture of Justine Damond seemed to honor the life of the 40-year-old Australian woman killed by a Minneapolis police officer last summer. Under the portrait were three signs that read "United We Stand."
By Saturday, the shrine was vandalized, and by Christmas Day it was removed by police, as it became clear that the memorial was probably erected by a white nationalist group.
"One family will be having an incomplete Christmas this year," said Identity Evropa in a tweet Friday that said that its activists were responsible for the memorial outside the department's fifth precinct - which Officer Mohamed Noor patrolled in July when he fatally shot Damond in the alley of her south Minneapolis neighborhood after she called 911 to report a possible sex assault. The tweet acknowledged that Noor has not been charged.
White nationalists have become increasingly vocal this year. In August, a rally by several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists, organized in part by Identity Evropa activists, erupted at the University of Virginia, resulted in shoving, punching and the spraying of chemical irritants by both groups. The rally turned deadly the next day when a counterprotester was killed at a second rally.
Many white nationalists have openly embraced President Donald Trump, who has attempted to curtail immigration and attacked "sanctuary cities."
It's not the first time white nationalists built a memorial for the victim of a high-profile shooting. A memorial last year honoring the death of Kate Steinle, who was fatally shotwhile on a stroll with her father in San Francisco's Embarcadero in 2015, was reportedly created by white nationalists. A jury acquitted a Mexican immigrant charged in the 32-year-old's death, which becamea rallying cry for those who want stricter immigration laws, such as the creation of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
By the time police were notified of the shrine created for Damond in Minneapolis it had been disassembled. An officer cleaned up what remained, and picked up some extinguished candles that had rolled around - but not because of the memorial's possible ties to the white nationalist group, said police spokesman John Elder.
The department's policy, he said, does not allow memorials or similar postings on police grounds.
"Nothing should be on the property. If it blows on the road of travel, at that point, it's basically liter. At that point, it was just stuff that was blowing around," he said.
He added that police did not have any indication aside from "rumors" that the memorial was linked to Identity Evropa, and the shrine was "absolutely not" taken down because of the group who put it there.
In a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune late Sunday, Mayor-Elect Jacob Frey called the actions "cowardly and disgusting."
"I condemn the perpetrators and their tactics in the strongest possible terms. Identity Evropa and those who share their values have no place in our city. Hate has no place in Minneapolis. Period," he said.
Identity Evropa, which refers to itself as a "generation of awakened Europeans," has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group could not be immediately reached for comment.
The investigating agency, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, has released few details about the incident, which was not captured on camera. While the officers drove through the alley before midnight July 15, a loud sound reportedly startled Officer Matthew Harrity and Noor, who was in the front passenger seat, just before Noor shot Damond. The loud noise may have been that of a woman slapping the officers' patrol car while they drove, according to a search warrant application filed a few weeks after the incident. The circumstances leading to Damond's death largely remain a mystery.
The officers had responded to 911 calls from Damond at about 11:30 p.m. reporting a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home in a nice Minneapolis neighborhood. Damond called again eight minutes later when authorities still hadn't arrived, worried they went to the wrong address. Moments later, the loud noise went off, and Damond approached the side of the police vehicle. Noor then fired his gun across his partner's body and through the driver's side window, hitting Damond in the abdomen.
Damond, a yoga teacher, died at the scene, 20 minutes after she called 911. She moved to Minneapolis in 2015 to be with her fiance.
Her shooting sparked international outcry in the weeks since. People rallied in Minnesota, Damond's family held beachside vigils in Australia and the Minneapolis police chief resigned over concerns that Noor and Harrity were not trained properly.
Noor has declined to speak with BCA investigators. Harrity's attorney hinted in July that the officers may have believed they were being ambushed, according to the Star Tribune.
Noor is on administrative leave, Elder said.